John Speraw, Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
After a strong regular season, the UCLA men’s volleyball team headed into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament ranked No. 4 overall. Unfortunately, the top-8 teams in the country all reside in the MPSF, so the conference tourney could be problematic for the Bruins.
The top team from each of the three volleyball conferences gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and there is only one at large bid up for grabs. Sitting as the 4-seed, it looks like the Bruins must upend two of the teams ahead of them (BYU in the semis, then either Long Beach State or UCI after that) to win the tournament and get a shot at NCAA play.
UCLA got going quickly in the quarterfinals, knocking off No. 5 Pepperdine on Saturday to advance. The Bruins, playing in the friendly confines of the John Wooden Center, dispatched the Waves in straight sets, setting up the showdown with No. 1 and top-overall seed, BYU.
The Cougars seem to be a powerhouse destined to win it all (23-4, 21-3 MPSF), but there is some hope for the Bruins. BYU may be slumping a bit, as they had trouble with No. 8 Hawaii (11-17 overall) in the quarters, and this Bruins team is peaking at the right time. Having won 10 of their last 11, including an impressive 3-0 sweep of BYU and wins over UCI and LBSU, UCLA has a chance to run the table. A semifinal win over BYU will not alone suffice. The automatic bid would go to one of the seeds ahead of them should the Bruins lose, and surely the Cougars would get the at-large due to their dominating display this season.
Put simply, the Bruins must win the highly competitive MPSF Tourney to have a fighting chance at a national championship. Once there though, UCLA would have an excellent opportunity to secure their 20th men’s volleyball national title. Of the bracket possibilities, the most difficult combination would inclue BYU (a team the Bruins would’ve beaten twice in a row in this scenario), No. 9 Ball State and No. 14 Penn State. UCLA would HAVE to be considered the favorite in that national bracket, especially because all of the games would be at home in Pauley Pavilion. They need just two wins to make this a reality, and coach John Speraw has the Bruins primed for greatness.
The semifinals take place on Thursday in Provo, Utah and will be broadcast by BYUtv. First serve is slated for 7 PM PST.